Wednesday, August 25, 2010

26 Advocacy Groups File Comments in Support of EPA Policy to Limit Confidential Business Information

Back in May 2010 the USEPA issued a "Notice of General Practice of Reviewing Confidentiality Claims for Chemical Identities in Health and Safety Studies Submitted Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)."  Today twenty-six health, labor and environmental advocacy organizations filed a 19-page set of detailed comments "voicing resounding support for a long-overdue change" in EPA's policies.

In short, EPA will no longer accept routine claims of confidentiality for chemical names when companies submit what are called TSCA 8(e) notices, i.e., reports of significant adverse effects.  Companies are required to report immediately if they become aware of such significant effects, usually as a result of toxicity testing that indicates unexpected levels of toxicity.  These health and safety studies themselves cannot be held confidential, but the advocacy organizations argue that by withholding the name of the chemical tested the health and safety result is meaningless.  After all, the public would have no idea on what chemical the study was conducted. [EPA, of course, does know what chemical is being reported, but the portion made public may be significantly redacted to protect competitive advantage for the company, which is important for example if the chemical is being newly developed for the marketplace or a new use in the marketplace.

One of the primary advocacy organizations preparing the comments is the Environmental Defense Fund, which has played a leading role in the advocacy community when it comes to chemical safety issues.  More information on the EPA action and the 26 advocacy groups can be found on EDF's web site.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

OSHA Wants You - To Help Identify Top Chemicals of Concern

The Occupational Safety and Health Act - OSHA - is looking for input from stakeholders as they seek to update and set new Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs).  Most of OSHA's PELs are old, and many wonder if the data on which they were based are sound.

PELs are "regulatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance in the air."  They have been one of the primary mechanisms by which OSHA sets and enforces standards for "preventing occupational illnesses and injuries." 

By asking for input, OSHA is hoping to incorporate substantial advances in the science and our knowledge of chemical since PELs were first adopted decades ago. In particular there is concern that new methods of analyzing chemicals to very low levels and better understanding of more subtle effects has resulted in many of the PELs being set too high, i.e., they are no longer sufficiently protective of public health.

So, "as an initial step," OSHA wants to here from you, and me, and anyone with input so that they can identify the chemicals of most concern.  OSHA recommends that "when nominating a particular chemical, please include the criteria you used for selecting that chemical for nomination (e.g., the OSHA PEL is inadequate, there is widespread use of the chemical and potential worker exposure)."

Monday, August 23, 2010

EPA to Issue HPV Chemical Test Rule; Hold Public Meeting

EPA is preparing to issue a new HPV test rule.  This will be the third (or possibly fourth) such rule, though only one of them has ever gone final.  The test rules, issued under the authority of TSCA Section 4, are designed to require testing of chemicals that are "orphans" of the High Production Volume Chemical Challenge Program.  These lost orphan chemicals are one reason why TSCA reform is needed.

So what is an orphan?  When the HPV Challenge program started in 1998, with much fanfare as then Vice-President Al Gore made the Earth Day announcement, there were high hopes that industry would voluntarily provide data on about 2800 of the highest production volume chemicals in the US.  The program had some caveats to it, which I won't rehash here, but by the (extended) 2005 completion date only about half of the chemicals had full data packages submitted.  Five years later that number has barely moved.  And that doesn't even count all the chemicals that have become HPV since the initial program list was written in stone.  It also doesn't include several hundred chemicals for which no one even bothered to volunteer data.  These are the "orphan" chemicals.

EPA has been trying to require testing for these nearly 300 unsponsored "orphan" chemicals.  They have gone through the iterative process of identifying the need, establishing the regulatory authority, and publishing "Proposed Test Rules" in the Federal Register.  Following comment periods these rules should be finalized and the required testing begun by the manufacturers.  In reality the proposed rules have languished unfinalized for a very long time, the earlier ones measured in years.  Only one has become final.

Today the EPA is supposed to announce an open meeting to be held on September 9th to listen to comments from interested parties, including the general public, the manufacturers and downstream users, and various health and environmental advocacy groups.  Here is the link to the meeting announcement.  Still, one has to wonder whether this is just another baby step to nowhere.  The elections are still a little over 2 months away, and Congress is hunkered down in reelection mode with no energy or desire to do any legislating.  Meanwhile, stakeholders in industry and the advocacy communities appear to have gone into bunker mode in an attempt to protect their individual objectives.  So whether this action means much is anyone's guess.